Health reform, Medicare and your doctors
With so much discussion and debate out there about health
care reform, the federal budget and changes to Medicare, it can be
difficult to keep everything straight.
To that end, we hope to use this space to keep you informed about how
all those issues come together and affect your health care.
Concern over access
As I talk with seniors, one of the biggest concerns they express to
me is whether they will continue to be able to see their doctors.
It's a valid concern. There are several factors on the horizon that
could impact how available doctors are to Medicare beneficiaries.
But it's also important to remember that at UK HealthCare, we will
continue to see every patient that comes to us, regardless of how the
political winds blow.
Pending a Supreme Court decision expected later this year and this
fall's election, the future of health reform is subject to change. But
let's take the long view first.
More patients, lower payments
When health reform takes effect in the fall of 2014, about 32 million
more people will have insurance than have it today. That means 32
million more people could begin to seek out primary care doctors,
specialists, therapists and other providers.
Unfortunately, health reform did not address increasing the number of
physicians. Despite support from UK and other academic medical centers,
the legislation did not create the additional capacity we need to train
So, the same number of doctors could be flooded with millions more
requests for visits, possibly making it more difficult to get an
The second factor is whether doctors will keep their doors open to Medicare patients if payment rates decline.
As part of the debate over our federal government's debt, a special
committee in Congress failed to come up with solutions to keep the debt
from growing in the future. As a result, federal spending will be cut
across the board, and that includes what the government pays doctors to
treat Medicare patients.
Those cuts are scheduled to take effect in January 2013. Doctors
could decide to limit the number of Medicare patients they will accept.
We did, however, get some good news recently. Earlier this month,
Congress acted to prevent a 27.4 percent cut in the Medicare rate the
government pays doctors.
Steps you can take
So, with so much uncertainty, what can patients do now to ensure they continue to receive quality care?
The most important step is to establish a solid relationship with a
good doctor - or doctors if you have multiple health problems requiring
different specialists. If you don't have a doctor you see regularly,
find one you're comfortable with. Develop a true partnership with your
medical team. You'll know them, and make sure they know you.
That way, despite an uncertain future, you'll be with providers whose true interests lie in keeping you healthy.